Canada’s Parliament Endorses a Nuclear Weapons Convention

As the US White House and Senate continue to wrangle over a complex set of compromises that may or may not lead to ratification of the New Start Treaty,[i] elsewhere, notably in the Parliament of Canada, there is growing recognition that before too long global nuclear disarmament will require the guidance of a formal roadmap – i.e. a nuclear weapons convention.

In an extraordinary show of unity in support of nuclear disarmament, earlier this week the House of Commons unanimously passed a resolution (which had already gone through the Senate) encouraging the Government of Canada to join “negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention” and to “deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament” (full resolution below).

While the idea of a nuclear weapons convention has wide public appeal, some governments which support the idea in principle, including Canada’s to date, argue nevertheless that now is not the time. First, they say, existing commitments need to be fulfilled and more of the specifics of the agreed nuclear disarmament agenda need to be completed – notably the entry into force of the test ban treaty and the negotiation of a treaty to halt production of and establish controls over fissile material for weapons purposes. When more of those basics are settled a comprehensive nuclear weapons convention will become feasible. But others argue that the convention is precisely what is needed to re-energize the pursuit of those specifics and to guide the disarmament measures that are yet to come.

The same ambivalence was present at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference earlier this year,[ii] but most states concluded that a clear roadmap is needed – that is, there needs to be an agreed legal framework for disarmament and a clear time line. Those are, after all, two key missing ingredients that a nuclear weapons convention would bring to the disarmament effort.

The fact that the Parliament of Canada, both the Senate and the House of Commons, now clearly agrees that such a convention should be pursued does not mean that the global ambivalence will be swept aside and that negotiations will begin. Internationally, most states support the call for a nuclear weapons convention, but of course the states with nuclear weapons are not among them.

While that means serious negotiations will not be beginning soon, it also means that the idea has enough international support, and in Canada a strong Parliamentary mandate, to prompt the arms control community, including expert and civil society policy groupings, to redouble its efforts in exploring the wide range of conditions and agreements that will be essential to the achievement of a nuclear weapons convention. Studies are needed to clarify the likely focus, scope, and verification measures for a convention, and in April 2011, for example, an Ottawa seminar will look at ways to further advance the setting of the legal, technical, and security foundations on which the irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons can rest.

And, given Parliament’s strong statement, we can now hope, and even expect, that the current Government of Canada will also mandate the Department of Foreign Affairs to redouble its diplomatic and technical work in pursuit of conditions conducive to nuclear disarmament.

The Parliamentary resolution is essentially the product of an initiative by Murray Thomson, a Canadian disarmament veteran, in which he (along with former Disarmament Ambassador Douglas Roche and Nobel Laureate John Polanyi) invited Order of Canada recipients to sign the following statement:

“We call on all member States of the UN – including Canada – to endorse, and begin negotiations for, a nuclear weapons convention as proposed by the UN Secretary-General in his five point plan for nuclear disarmament.”

The project grew to more than 535 signatures – all signatories being Members, Officers, or Companions of the Order of Canada – including a broad range of leaders from business, finance, political, arts, and arms control communities.[iii] One of the signatories, Sen. Hugh Segal, began the Parliamentary process with the resolution in the Senate, inviting the House to take the same action. All-party agreement in the House of Commons was assured through the efforts of a number of people from all parties. The resolution was then introduced in the House of Commons by MP Bill Siksay, Chair of the Canadian Section of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, and passed without objection.

The resolution specifically supports the five-point plan of the Secretary-General which makes the pursuit of a convention or a broad framework for disarmament measures its central feature:[iv]

The full resolution:

That the House of Commons:

                (a) recognize the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear materials and technology to peace and security;

                (b) endorse the statement, signed by 500 members, officers and companions of the Order of Canada, underlining the importance of addressing the challenge of more intense nuclear proliferation and the progress of and opportunity for nuclear disarmament;

                (c) endorse the 2008 five point plan for nuclear disarmament of Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations and encourage the Government of Canada to engage in negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention as proposed by the United Nations Secretary-General;

                (d) support the initiatives for nuclear disarmament of President Obama of the United States of America;

                (e) commend the decision of the Government of Canada to participate in the landmark Nuclear Security Summit and encourage the Government of Canada to deploy a major world-wide Canadian diplomatic initiative in support of preventing nuclear proliferation and increasing the rate of nuclear disarmament.

eregehr@uwaterloo.ca

Notes

[i] See posts here: November 6, 2010 – http://disarmingconflict.ca/2010/11/06/new-start-messy-but-urgent/; November 18, 2010 – http://disarmingconflict.ca/2010/11/18/why-the-international-silence-on-new-start/.

[ii] For references to a nuclar weapon convention in the 2010 NPT Review Conference see June 16, 2010 post. http://disarmingconflict.ca/2010/06/16/the-npt-review-conference-i-more-than-empty-promises/.

[iii] Signatories include: William Daniel, former president, Shell Oil; Adam Zimmerman, former president of Noranda and chair of the CD Howe Institute;  Henry Jackman and Lincoln Alexander, former Lieutenant Governors of Ontario;Bruce Aikenhead, the architect who designed the Canadarm used in space; Ralph Barford, president of GSW, Inc.;  Timothy Brodhead, President of the McConnell Foundation; Purdy Crawford, corporate philanthropist; John Ellis, former vice-chairman, Bank of Montreal; Richard W. Ivey, CEO and chair, Ivest Corporation; and Pierre Jeanniot, general manager of IATA and former president of Air Canada; Margaret Atwood, Tommy Banks, Romeo Dallaire, Atom Egoyan, Graeme Gibson, Mel Hurtig, Norman Jewison, Peter Newman, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Plummer, Fiona Reid, Veronica Tennant, John Turner, Jean Vanier.

[iv] A five-point plan to rid world of nuclear bombs by Ban  Ki-moon. http://www.un.org/sg/articleFull.asp?TID=105&Type=Op-Ed.

1. Pursue negotiations in good faith – as required by the NPT – on nuclear disarmament, either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification.

2. Strengthen security in the disarmament process, and…assure non-nuclear-weapon states against nuclear weapons threats.

3. Ensure that disarmament is rooted in legal obligations through universal membership in multilateral treaties, regional nuclear-weapon-free zones, a new treaty on fissile materials, and ratification and entry into force of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

4. Ensure disarmament is visible to the public through greater accountability and transparency – thus countries with nuclear weapons should publish more information about what they are doing to fulfill their disarmament commitments.

5. Recognize that nuclear disarmament also requires eliminating other weapons of mass destruction and limiting missiles, space weapons and conventional arms.

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